The Big Read Blog (Archive)


March 29, 2010
Washington, DC

Undated portrait of Edith Wharton from Library of Congress collection

Although Edith Wharton's writing chronicled the milieu of early 20th century, upper class New York, I think one of the qualities that makes her a "classic" writer is that the concerns addressed in her fiction and nonfiction remain quite relevant in contemporary times. Take for example this quote from The Decoration of Houses---published with interior designer Ogden Codman in 1898---which treats an idea still very much under discussion today.

If art is really a factor in civilization, it seems obvious that the feeling for beauty needs as careful cultivation as the other civic virtues....The habit of regarding 'art' as a thing apart from life is fatal to the development of taste...No greater servcie can be rendered to children than in teaching them to know the best and to want it.

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